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Daniel and Amy McArthur

BELFAST, Northern Ireland, October 25, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Defeated but undeterred, Belfast baker Daniel McArthur stood in front of  the British Court of Appeal building and asserted that the Equality Law under which he had been convicted of discrimination against homosexuals “has to be changed.”

Then the evangelical Christian made an unusually fervent declaration of faith as he stood with wife Amy and parents Karen and Colin McArthur, the owners of the small chain of seven bakeries he manages. “We are thankful to God who has been faithful to us through everything. He is still on the throne of Heaven and of Earth. He is our God and we worship and honor him.”

In 2015, the McArthurs were convicted in a Belfast court of discrimination for refusing to bake a cake ordered by homosexual activist Gareth Lee showing two Sesame Street characters and the message: “Support Gay Marriage.”

As McArthur explained Monday morning, “The judges accepted that we did know Mr. Lee was gay and he was not the reason we declined the order. It was never about the customer. It was about the message and the court accepted that today. But now we are being told we have to promote the message even if it is against our conscience.” He added, “If Equality Law means people can be punished for politely refusing to support other people's causes, then Equality Law needs to change.”

McArthur said the ruling was a blow against “democratic freedom” and “religious freedom.” He said his family would have to consult their lawyers before deciding whether to appeal. According to Jim Wells, a conservative member of the Northern Ireland Parliament, “The Ashers’ case must now be referred to the Supreme Court, and if that fails to the European Court of Human Rights.”

Reaction to the ruling was divided along ideological lines with two notable exceptions. Homosexual human rights activist Peter Tatchell said he disagreed with the McArthurs on gay “marriage” but agreed that the ruling attacked freedom of thought. “This verdict is a defeat for freedom of expression. As well as meaning that Ashers can be legally forced to aid the promotion of same-sex marriage, it also implies that gay bakers could be forced by law to decorate cakes with homophobic slogans.”

David McNarry, leader of UKIP in Northern Ireland, waffled on the issue, observing only that “the judges must precisely spell out the law in order to stop others unwittingly breaking the law.”

But other Northern Irish politicos supported the Ashers if they were conservative and lauded the judgment if they belonged to the left. Sean Lynch of Sinn Fein called it “welcome and makes sense. The original decision was the correct one and I'm glad it has been upheld.”

Northern Irish religious leaders across the denomination spectrum condemned the ruling. Peter Lynas of the Evangelical Alliance called it “a sad day for the family and for freedom of conscience and religion,” adding, “Forcing someone to promote a view that they fundamentally disagree with is the antithesis of a free and fair society.”

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The Very Rev. Dr. Norman Hamilton of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland warned that the ruling had “far reaching implications for all business owners by confirming that they cannot in conscience refuse to be involved in the promotion of particular causes or messages that run contrary to their beliefs — religious or otherwise.”

And Michael Kelly, editor of the Irish Catholic, echoed McArthur’s comments, writing, “If law allows prosecution for not supporting a particular political agenda, the law needs to be changed.”

But Gareth Lee, the customer who ordered the cake, told reporters, “I am relieved and grateful to the appeal court judges.” Michael Wardlow, chief equality commissioner who served as prosecutor, was “pleased of the verdict today [because] it clarifies the law and it means that anyone whether you are straight, gay or bisexual … we can all receive the same treatment.”

A 2014 poll by the Daily Mail found most Britons — by a 60 percent-14 percent majority — thought the Equality Commission’s action against Asher was “disproportionately heavy handed.” Fifty-six percent of those polled thought it was wrong in principle for the law to require small business owners to promote messages contrary to their consciences while 21 percent thought the law should do so.